TAMPA -- The New York Islanders remained within sight of the Eastern Conference playoffs on Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum in large part because Matt Moulson knew where John Tavares was when he couldn't even see him.
Tavares converted a deft cross-crease back pass from Moulson for the only goal the Islanders needed and Brad Boyes added an empty-netter in a 2-0 win over the Lightning in a closely contested game of teams going in different directions at a crucial point in the season.
"I guess I just know him well," Moulson said of Tavares. "He said he was shocked that I passed it. Luckily, he turned around to get it."
New York improved to 12-12-3 (27 points) and remained on the fringe of the eighth and final postseason spot after winning its fourth of five and gaining points for the sixth time in the last seven. Tampa Bay, meanwhile fell to 11-15-1 (23 points) after losing its eighth in ten and appearing to clearly miss center Vincent Lacavalier, who is lost indefinitely because of a lower-body injury.
"You have to get the two points whenever you can," Moulson said. "A lot of close games. A lot of teams are close in the standings. You have to make sure you get the two points, especially when you take the lead into the third period."
The Islanders took a 1-0 lead with 9:38 left in the second period when Tavares tapped the puck past goaltender Anders Lindback on the only Islanders power play of the game. Moulson had screening in front of Lindback when a deep shot landed nearby. The goal was Tavares' fourth in his last five games and improved his team-leading total to 17. Moulson picked up us 17th assist, Boyes his 16th.
"Great pass by Matt," Tavares said. "Had his back to me and made a great pass. Brought the goalie and drew a couple guys. He probably could have put it in himself but really made it easy and I just had a tap-in."
Boyes' empty-netter was his seventh goal of the season.
Tampa Bay was denied when Steven Stamkos, the league's leading goal-scorer (20), arrived at the open left side of the net the same time as a loose puck only to have his stick break.
"Scoring chances were 9-8," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We want more obviously, but this is a good team. We just can't buy a goal."
Tampa Bay labored offensively, amassing just 12 shots through two periods. The Lightning appeared to miss the flair and physical presence of Lecavalier, particularly on a power play with 8:29 left as the special teams missed his connection with Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Stamkos was able to create occasional initial chances, but the New York back check snuffed out any follow-up attempts.
"They did a good job of not letting us get as many pucks to the net as we wanted," Lightning winger Ryan Malone said. "(We) had a couple of good chances and a couple of good looks. (We) just didn't get the job done."
The job figures to get harder with Lecavalier placed on injured reserve Thursday and likely miss at least a week, according to general manager Steve Yzerman. Lecavalier (7 goals, sixth in the NHL with a 54.8% faceoff percentage) hunched on the Tampa Bay bench late in Tuesday's game after banging legs with a Florida defenseman in front of the Panther net. Lecavalier's goal on Tuesday was his first in 11 games as he played through the recovery from a foot injury suffered in February.
Tampa Bay's last chance came on a loose puck resting just outside the crease with the extra skater on, but the Islanders whisked it away.
"They are going to get chances," said Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who had 18 saves, "but the key as always is what kind of chances they're going to get and where are they going to get them and how much time they are going to get, and today I thought we did a pretty good job on the big guys."
NOTES: New York won for the first time in regulation this season when scoring two goals or fewer. The Islanders are now 1-11-1 in those games. ... New York remained 10th in the Eastern Conference and three points behind Winnipeg -- which beat the Rangers on Thursday -- for the final playoff spot. ... The Islanders have won three of their last four road games. ... Boyes has eight points in his last six games. ... Tavares has five points in his last five games. ... Tampa Bay recalled American Hockey League goals leader Tyler Johnson (31) from Syracuse. ... Stamkos' three-game goal streak was snapped. He also had a five-game point streak against the Islanders. ... St. Louis' four-game point streak against the Islanders ended.